Hasbro. DC. Marvel. Disney. They’ve got them all locked down. Every childhood legend and league of disproportioned heroes and villains. Back when people told stories around firepits and under stars no one could tell you the real story. Pretty often some wise guy who thought he could top the last tale might claim to have the real story – but he’s just a showboating sonovabitch. He knows about as much as any other guy. The teller who gets to be right isn’t the one closest to what came before, but closest to what comes after. The story that gets repeated is the story that gets to be real. And that was the way it was for a very long time.

Stories keep evolving – survival of the fittest. But there’s no place for evolution in a production line. Take chickens for example. The humble chicken, by virtue of being tasty, flightless, easily domesticated, nutritious and easy to breed, has been kept in more or less the same state for hundreds of years. The only changes to the chicken have been to bulk it up to produce more meat and breed better egg layers. Change is not evolution – evolution can be surprising. So we now have battery farmed chickens, have done for just under a century. The chickens are controlled and bred selectively – some are even copyrighted. And we all can have access to the same fowl feast.

My mythology – the heroes I dreamed about when I built worlds out of stones and sticks – are battery chickens. Bloated and making some investors happy. The stories I got don’t belong to me, I don’t even think they were rented out to me. If this was around a firepit under stars and Hasbro had just finished telling a story about Optimus Prime and the All Spark, I would get up and say, wait a minute, listen here because I’ve got the real story – see the All Spark wasn’t the real creator, somebody made it. A bazillion years a–

HEY YOU SHOWBOATING SONOVABITCH! YOU SHUT YOUR DAMN MOUTH BEFORE MY LAWYER LEROY HERE SHUTS IT FOR YOU!

That Hasbro – he’s a dick. And he’s locked up all the dreams in battery farms. And just like in battery farms, more productive is the goal, not better. Legally who ever tells a story owns the characters that are created through it – as long as those characters are distinct enough. And, as in any case of ownership, the rights to that character can be transferred. Fair enough that you tell a story and people who make money from retelling that story owe you something, and fair enough that people shouldn’t be allowed to stop you making money from telling your story. But there comes a point of cultural saturation when that character must take on a life of its own. By which I mean a return to the firepit nights of old. May the best story win. This is the way it is for Sherlock Holmes, Hercules, Robin Hood and King Arthur – why not for Superman, Snake-Eyes and Optimus Prime?

BECAUSE I OWN THE RIGHTS TO ALL DERIVATIVE WORKS AND LEROY HERE WILL PUT YOU INTO THE GROUND IF YOU TRY TELL PEOPLE A STORY WITH MY GIANT ROBOTS IN THEM! YOU WANT TO TELL A STORY ABOUT GIANT ROBOTS? RIP OFF THE FUCKING GOBOTS.

I have more legal right to use Jesus in a story than Superman. Corporations are more powerful than church. Peace out.

One fanboy too many has leapt to the defence of the indefensible, right in front of the truck of logic. Make a big issue out of the plotholes and the ridiculousness of the action on screen or stage and they inevitably, smugly, sit back and say, “Well, I can suspend my disbelief.” The implication being, of course, that you cannot.

That’s when I get ready to school fools.

Here’s the big thing: You do not suspend your own disbelief. What is the point of art if the audience has to do all the work? What is the point if the audience has to engage in some kind of 1984 double-think to like it? You didn’t suspend your disbelief, you just didn’t care cuz u liked the ‘splosions.

[mocking, squeaky voice] “but ignoring the not-sense-making IS suspending my disbelieving!”

Wrong my ridiculous, imagined adversary. Samuel Taylor Coleridge coined the term, but his full idea is conveniently forgotten.

“It was agreed, that my endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic, yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.”

So suspension of disbelief originally refers to a state of mind procured, or inspired, by the inner truth of the characters. So you care about the characters, you care enough about what happens to these fictions, these lies, that the events affect you emotionally. Not about the ‘splosions, not about the boobies, about the characters, about what happens to them.

I watched District 9 this week, great movie. Huge plot holes though. But the heart of it wasn’t the ‘splosions and gunfights. It was the performance of Sharlto Copley as Wikus van der Merwe. The human caught up in a story where his choices have far reaching implications when his life before was a selfish cocoon of ticked boxes as an oblivious bureaucrat. The plot holes caught up to me after the movie, thinking about the world they’d created in their film. It left some unanswered questions, the ‘why was…’ and the ‘but when…’ that could have been sewn up. But maybe the film makers were as caught up with the characters as I was – these shadows of imagination had more than enough truth to their nature to keep me enthralled through the film.

Going back to my young punk’s lesson in don’t-use-words-you-don’t-undertand”-ology. Coleridge didn’t think of Disbelief and Faith as being the opposite ends of a single spectrum. Disbelief’s opposite man is Belief, and Faith’s is Unbelief. Disbelief and Belief are, in Coleridge’s writings specific to matters of logic and rationality. Faith and Unbelief are for the religious, the felt, the irrational things we may or may not believe. Straying into religious philosophy here. You see, back in the day there was a prevalent idea called Fideism – metaphysical questions cannot be answered by logic, or refuted by logic. Matters of Faith simply were. So Coleridge isn’t out to fool you, he’s not asking you to believe as CNN does, he’s going to make you care about his shadows of imagination even if it does make sense logically, because it’ll make sense to something in your soul. But modern discourse has largely moved away from Fideism, and so has arts education. Young punks get to hear the term “suspension of disbelief” but don’t get told what it means – even Coleridge doesn’t overtly explain it, that requires some research [check out: Tomko, Michael Politics, Performance, and Coleridge’s “Suspension of Disbelief.”  In Victorian Studies Vol. 49 Issue 2, p241-249, 9p Winter (2007)].

And so I end up at the corner of a dinner table next to a guy smugly telling me about the pleasure he took in Transformers 2 because he could suspend his disbelief. *Slow Clap. Well fucking done. No. You took pleasure in ‘splosions, Megan Fox, robots fighting and hump jokes – none of which makes you special or demonstrates your insight into the nature of art. But hey, I liked District 9 and that has lots of ‘splosions.

Theatre is finally dead. Awesome. After years of watching its slow decline I have finally seen its death. It has ceased to be, passed on and moved up to that big playhouse in the sky. Except its corpse won’t keep still. Oh, no it will not. Like a blank-eyed zombie it still lurches around, empty of its essence, its life-force seeking out not braaaaaaains but boxoffice. What is motivating this shuffling cadaver? What has taken up residence in place of theatricality? Film.

I like film, it’s a beautiful medium used by many great storytellers to great effect. But it is a different medium to theatre, something my generation of writers seems to have forgotten. Film and theatre have always swapped their promiscuous lovers since before the Lumière brothers’ film spectacles – Eisenstein even started his career in the theatre – so there is a lot of common ground between the two. The very nature of each medium, the qualities that create their own special blends of advantages and disadvantages, means that they tell stories in very different ways. The stories differ in ways both dramatic and subtle, the kinds of performances that are given by the actors are worlds apart and the arrangements of narrative elements are especially divergent. All these factors mean that despite interrelated forms, you can not tell a story onstage the way you would on film.

Done London is the latest culprit I’ve seen of writing and directing theatre for film. It is rooted in a film genre – slice-of-life multi-plot – and features naturalistic story, dialogue and acting, ‘montages’ set to genre music for time passing, linear narrative progression and multiple locations. None of which would make this a play in film drag by itself, but taken together they move the play out of play categories. And so audiences get what they’re used to seeing on flat screens in dark rooms.

All of which would be fine if theatre was in fact dead. It’s not. It’s vibrant, exciting and theatrical. Whatever experiment is carried out by the playwrights, directors and performers in theatre, let it not be an experiment in disguising the nature of the form. Audiences may be in love with movies and TV, but that does not mean theatremakers should be giving them what they see in movies and on TV. Ultimately there is really only one way to kill theatre – use it to imitate another medium.

Today it’s warm and sunny in Cape Town despite being winter. Damn. The weather is taunting me, a flirtatious woman on her balcony blowing kisses at soldiers marching to war. It is going to be cold in Grahamstown, the sun today reminds me of the 11 days of wearing two pairs of pants that I have to look forward to, starting tomorrow. The Bosnian and I will be loading up the Fish Tank well before dawn. I’ll be blurry eyed while he strides around as if sleep is an occupation of whores and junkies, a vice he niether needs nor wants. It’s a drive of roughly 9 hours in the shuddering beast I’ll be driving – fortunately I have mix tapes excavated from boxes labelled “Things I’ll never need again. Ever”

But despite the wretchedly long lists of  ‘to do’ that need to be worked through, I’m eager to get to Grahamstown, to see new shows, good and bad and interesting. The festival is a creative slap in the face – the kind you take then say, “thanks, I needed that”